Over the weekend, the Taiwan government itself reported that the Philippines had received the highest growth rate for outbound tourists from Taiwan, at 55.42 percent for the month of June and 30.60 percent for January to June departures compared to the same period last year.
With a population of only about 23 million, our own Department of Tourism identified Taiwan as the sixth major source of tourists into the country. In fact, I was told that boat operators and service-oriented workers in El Nido in Palawan already know certain phrases in Mandarin as a result of their close and frequent interaction with Taiwanese tourists.
Even airlines are capitalizing on these gains, adding more flights to and from the island. Just this week, AirAsia announced that it is opening routes from the south, in Kaohsiung, flying passengers directly to Clark or Cebu. Just about six months earlier, Tiger Air likewise opened flights to Clark, offering more options for Taiwanese tourists.
We now have seven flights from Taipei’s Taoyuan International airport daily by China Air, Eva Air, and PAL, plus two each from Cebu Pacific and Air Asia. Additionally, Eva Air flies daily from Taoyuan to Cebu, and China Air flies four times a week from Manila to Kaohsiung. There are also weekly chartered flights to Puerto Princesa and Kalibo. MECO and the tourism office in Taiwan hope to promote more direct flights to Clark and Cebu, perhaps Iloilo in the near future. Were it not for the Marawi episode two years back which brought about travel advisories, Davao and Cagayan de Oro could likewise be served by flights from Taiwan bypassing Manila.
While I do not have any particular expertise to analyze the tourism market, I believe the efforts of the Manila Economic and Culture Office and the dynamic team of government agencies working under its umbrella, have all contributed to this substantial accomplishment.
As of this writing, MECO’s tourism campaign over social media which broke out in late April is still operational, up until the first week of August when most school activities would have already paused for vacation. And the Philippines has so much to offer as a close, summer getaway for the Taiwanese.
This year, we chose to showcase the destinations in Siargao, Siquijor, and Iloilo through originally-produced videos presented across MECO’s social media platforms, instead of the usual and more expensive practice of running them as television ads.
In late 2017, the tourism office in Taiwan asked MECO to sponsor generic television ads proclaiming the Philippines as the “paradise closest to Taiwan,” with beautiful visuals of our beaches and dive spots. But we later realized that most individual travelers nowadays rely more on their “second screen” than the TV, deciding on their next vacation destination based upon research on the Internet and experiences of people who have actually been there.
And so, this year, we asked a group of young and very creative guys to do brief capsules of Taiwanese visitors actually enjoying the surf and mangrove forest of Siargao, the fabulous seafood and culture of Iloilo, and the magical enchantment of Siquijor. It is MECO’s modest contribution to the efforts of our Department of Tourism, and our tagline was “Fun any time” in the Philippines.
Indeed, the Philippines can be a year-round destination, not just for the winter months of November to March which is the traditional peak season for travelers to our country. We made our social media ads to appeal to travelers during the vacation months when schools are closed from June till mid-August.
While tourists make the bulk of travelers to the Philippines, there are also the Taiwanese businessmen who now flock to the country to explore ventures and further markets to trade their wares.
Our Philippine Trade and Investment Center in Taipei likewise has been vigorously engaged in two-pronged promotions of our country’s potential to the Taiwanese, offering assistance to potential investors and bringing in our products to their local market.
Most recently, our trade experts were able to negotiate with the French-based supermarket, CarreFour with hundreds of branches across the island, to permanently display and sell products from the Philippines in their supermarket shelves. Efforts are also underway to put and sell the same products in another grocery chain, RT-Mart, which is also operated by a French conglomerate.
But perhaps the most heartwarming achievement for us would not be about the material gains we have earned in our relationship with Taiwan. Rather it is about fostering warmer people-to-people relationships. For while Taiwan is our closest neighbor to the north, with only the Balintang Channel separating us, there is an awareness and appreciation chasm that we need to bridge.
Next school year, Filipino as a language will be officially offered as an elective for second-language training in Taiwan, both in the elementary and mid-school levels.
While the initial target are children of mixed Filipino-Taiwanese parentage who speak Mandarin, the official language, and perhaps a sprinkling of English, the government through its Ministry of Education in pursuit of the New Southbound Policy, is promoting knowledge of other Asian cultures.
Before this elective course begins, so much hard work in coming up with books and instructional materials to efficiently teach the language to young minds had to be exerted.
Spearheading this effort is MECO’s Director in the Kaohsiung extension office, Irene Ng, who teamed up with academics and highly-motivated volunteers to come up with books and digital learning materials in time for the opening of classes.
Just before the SONA, I had the privilege to meet these volunteers who spent almost three years, holding more than a thousand meetings, to produce a total of 18 books to teach Filipino to Taiwanese students.
As we handed out the simple appreciation certificates to these teacher-volunteers together with Taiwan’s Deputy Minister of Education, I was moved by the teary-eyed teachers and editors who spent countless hours and immeasurable effort to promote another country’s culture to their people.
It represents the Taiwanese’s dedication and commitment to share the gains they have achieved with the Filipino people, a gesture that we will continue to nourish and celebrate as we further relations with their people.
Modest gains, but, to paraphrase President Diosdado Macapagal, “stones for the edifice” in building stronger and lasting people-to-people relationships.